The day I arrived in Kenya, I saw a country that looked pretty much as I had expected it, based on what I’ve seen in the pages of National Geographic. As an aside, yes, I suppose it dates me that I talk about reading NG, rather than about watching anything on NGC. Dry, dusty roads, and the occasional martini-glass shaped tree.
Still, the fact that my hotel was called Sarova White Sands Beach Resort may have tipped me off to the fact that I was in for a change of scenery. And so I was.
I am very sad to report that, up until now, I have not yet clapped eyes on a monkey. What I have seen a lot of are people dressed in formal business attire, walking around under the hot sun.
The last gentleman is, of course, Commissioner Lucenito Tagle.
The Commissioner will be delivering a case study that focuses on the automation of elections. However, that’s in a couple of days yet. Today, the discussion revolved around voter registration. It was very hard slogging for us since a lot of what was being talked about had already been tackled by the COMELEC. There were lengthy discussions, for instance, on the desirability of having a continuous system of registration versus a system that featured periodic general registrations. The temptation to jump in during discussions was very strong, but since we barely knew what sort of unique problems the other country’s were facing, we mostly listened. There was much more value in hearing what other jurisdictions had experienced than in just talking about the Philippine experience for talking’s sake. Especially when it seemed that that differences between our experiences varied wildly.
What we did have in common, though, was the apparent consensus that biometrics would play an essential role in ensuring the cleanliness of voter registries.
Of course, even as many of the electoral management bodies from around the region were singing praises of electronic voter registration – strongly reminiscent of the way we at home do it – there were some election experts who slipped in words of caution. As we in the Philippines have found out through practical experience, technology makes things easier, but it doesn’t quite solve everything. One particular expert, Briet Lodewijk – the head of the European Union Delegation in Kenya – put a spin on that advice tho. He said:
Three things lead to ruin. Women, gambling, and technicians. The most pleasurable way to go is women. The most expensive way, gambling. But the surest way to ruin is technicians.
Judging from the hooting that greeted his joke, and the collective facepalming of the women in the conference hall, I’d say gender sensitivity has quite a ways to go. He himself looked kinda sheepish after delivering the punchline. The political correctness issues aside, I have to say that he made a very good point.
In my head, as in this blog, I take his punchline to mean that decisions about election procedures – including what technologies to use and how extensively to use them – cannot be left entirely to technicians. Ultimately, election professionals have to determine how, where, and to what extent technology will be useful. This will curb those overly enthusiastic expectations that are based on nothing more substantial than fervent declarations of “technology can do that!”
Anyway, that was pretty much how the rest of the day went, and quite possibly more of the same tomorrow. But for now, though, time to put feet up and listen to the ancient surf laugh at all of us, serious little primates, worrying about how to do things better.